If you have already bought the charcoal grill you always wanted and cannot wait to test it out to impress your family and friends with some tasty, flavorful grilled food, there is one more ingredient that you need to research and get right – the best lump charcoal.
The charcoal you use imparts complex smoky flavors in your food. The kind of charcoal you choose, therefore, can be an integral part of how your recipes turn out.
In this guide, we take a look at the best lump charcoal options currently available and try to discuss their pros and cons so that you can make an informed choice. Don’t forget to pickup a new charcoal starter to make your life easier.
Ultimate Guide for Best Lump Charcoal : Angry BBQ’s Top Picks
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Best Lump Charcoal
Grilling with charcoal is a popular way to cook food that tastes and smells great. However, you might have been using lump charcoal without a full appreciation of how it can affect the flavors and aroma of your food. There are many different types of lump charcoal and understanding the fundamentals of this crucial ingredient can be a crucial first step towards choosing the right product for your needs.
What is Lump Charcoal?
At its simplest form, charcoal is made by burning wood. It also looks like burned wood. However, there is much more to it than just that. Here is a guide on the ways to light a charcoal grill.
The wood is burned in the oxygen-free environment to create charcoal that is almost entirely made of carbon. The burning process, in essence, purifies the wood as volatile alcohol, water, and oils are all cleared away in the form of smoke. What is left behind is a natural, clean-burning fuel that contains no fillers or additives. This is why many BBQ enthusiasts swear by charcoal as their preferred method of firing up a pit.
The nature of the starting wood determines a lot of the characteristics of the charcoal. As manufacturers use different types of single woods and wood mixes to create charcoal, it is good to know what you can expect in terms of flavor and burning characteristics from different kinds of hardwood charcoals.
- Oak – This is the hardwood that is predominantly found in a lot of lump charcoal mixes. The taste of oak charcoal is the taste most people would usually associate with grilled food. The signature taste is intense, a little bitter, and a perfect complement to the natural umami flavor of meats. If you are just starting out with charcoal grills, this can be a good first choice.
- Hickory – Apart from oak, this is the other wood of choice if you are looking to enhance the natural taste of proteins with a strong, smoky flavor. The smoke from charcoal made out of hickory gives a strong flavor and aroma to the meat while also imparting that slightly bitter taste generally associated with grilled food. If you are looking to enhance the flavor of meats that have high fat content, like beef or pork cuts, this might be a great choice.
- Apple – Another popular choice for grilling and smoking, charcoal made from applewood gives the food a milder, sweeter flavor and aroma. This is a salient choice if you want only mild flavor enhancement and would like to highlight the natural taste of the meat, your dry rubs, or your marinades. This is a versatile choice and can work with leaner proteins like fish and venison and also fattier meats like pork.
- Cherry – This can produce a very unique sweet and mild smell and taste that is best used with proteins like fish, chicken, and duck. If you are looking to smoke or grill vegetables, this can work really well too.
- Tree Mixes – Charcoal mixes can make use of multiple trees in varying proportions to create distinct flavor profiles. While you are likely to find a higher percentage of oak and hickory, a lot of lump charcoal products also use more esoteric mixes that you have to test to understand the complex flavors.
Cooking with Lump Charcoal
Lump charcoal can be excellent for grilling for several inherent properties. It lights up very quickly, owing to its high carbon content. This makes it an easier fuel to start than wood or briquettes. With the best lump charcoal, you can get a fire started in your pit in a matter of minutes.
Lump charcoal also makes it a lot easier for you to precisely control the cooking temperature. Due to its high reactivity with oxygen, simply controlling the air intake on your grill can allow you to control the cooking temperature. If you are looking for a quick and hard sear with roaring heat, lump charcoal can help you get there easily. If you are looking to cook something low and slow, adjusting the airflow can let you set lower temperatures. This is what makes lump charcoal so versatile.
Finding the Best Lump Charcoal
By now, you have an idea about how important choosing the best lump charcoal can be for your overall cooking results. Knowing how to find and choose the best lump charcoal can be crucial.
The best charcoal comes from completely natural hardwood and does not contain binders, fillers, or chemicals. Expect to find evenly sized pieces and in the case of high-quality charcoal, large pieces. These ignite immediately, burn for a long time, and produce very little ash.
The lack of sparking is also a telltale sign of good quality lump charcoal. Charcoal made from lighter woods can burn very rapidly, creating sparks. This is not observed in the case of the best hardwood charcoals and the best natural charcoals.
It is also a good idea to think about the environment while purchasing lump charcoal and to choose a manufacturer that makes use of sustainable practices.
If you find a lot of dust and smaller, broken pieces in the bag or foreign objects like nails or dirt, it is a good idea to avoid such a product.
Lighting Lump Charcoal
It is not advisable to use lighter fluid or other firestarters while lighting lump charcoal. Doing this can introduce chemicals and impurities in the mix and leave an unpleasant taste in the food.
Here are a few reliable methods you can use to light your lump charcoal for the grill.
- Using a heated air blower can be a good way to ignite the charcoal. Using this method, you can set the charcoal up in a pile first and then use the air blower to apply even heat to the entire pile. This can make the entire amount of charcoal ready at one go but it does require an electrical connection for the air blower.
- Another method would be to use an electric starter, such as a Looftlighter Charcoal Electric Lighter and Firestarter. This can be left in contact with the charcoal for a few minutes and your charcoal will be ready. However, this does not allow for even heating of the entire pile of charcoal. It can take a little while for the entirety of the charcoal to heat up after you put it in the grill. Also, this too requires an electrical connection.
- An easy solution that does not require any electricity is a chimney starter like the Rapidfire Chimney Starter from Weber. This is a simple device where you insert newspapers or kindling in the bottom and the charcoal on the top. All you need to do then is to set fire to the bottom chamber and wait for the charcoal on top to heat up to the right temperature. This is the way Jannah and I start our charcoal. The chimney starter is an inexpensive and simple must-have tool for charcoal fanatics. Personally I believe this is the best way to light lump charcoal.
The Top Picks
Best Natural Lump Charcoal : Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
What We Like…
- High-quality, natural charcoal
- Medium and large chunks
- Can burn for a long time
- Low ash and dust production
- Great value for money
What Makes Us Angry…
- Some might consider the flavor of the smoke too mild or lacking character
- Can be a little difficult to light up
- Availability might be limited at times
- Packaging can be a little flimsy
Our pick for the best natural lump charcoal goes to the popular, tried-and-tested All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal from Jealous Devil. These retain a great quality of wood and come mostly in hand-cut large chunks with very little dust in the bag. The wood in use is Quebracho Blanco which is sourced from Paraguay.
This charcoal is capable of reaching relatively high temperatures while also retaining the ability to slowly smoke for long periods of time. This makes it a versatile choice for whatever protein you want to cook. Whether you want a quick, hard sear, or a long, slow cook, these can be perfect. However, we recommend these more for those low and slow recipes.
These impart a light smoky flavor to the food that can enhance the sweetness of the protein. The natural flavor of the meat is retained and enhanced and there are no unpleasant or chemical smells.
Best Long-Burning: Cowboy Hardwood Lump Charcoal
What We Like…
- Imparts a signature, classic Southern flavor to the meat
- Can achieve very high temperatures
- Clean burning with little ash
- Affordable and easily available
What Makes Us Angry…
- Low-density charcoal
- Heat retention may be an issue with open grills
- No special attribute that makes it stand out
If you are looking for that classic barbeque flavor and a simple, elegant option that is great for beginners, it is hard to go wrong with the Cowboy Hardwood Lump Charcoal. These are simple and high-quality charcoals with no frills available in different bag sizes.
These are made from a mix of hardwoods, including hickory, maple, and oak. Made from tree limbs, these are of a lower density and create a high heat while also retaining heat for a long time. This makes it a stellar choice for traditional BBQ recipes that require high heat for a quick char. This can also be a poignant option for recipes that require long and slow cooking.
These also burn clean and produce very little ash while imparting a very mild smoky flavor to the meat. The sweet flavor is typically associated with Southern BBQ cooking. This charcoal also remains highly sustainable, being made out of scrap lumber that comes mostly from wood mills.
Best Budget-Friendly Charcoal : Betterwood Products
What We Like…
- Great quality at an affordable price
- Easy to get started
- Capable of high temperatures
- Can retain heat for a long time
- Can be used more than once
What Makes Us Angry…
- The bag might contain smaller pieces and dust
- Does not impart a distinct flavor to the meat
If you are looking for a budget option that does not involve compromises, the Betterwood Hardwood Lump Charcoal can be hard to beat. This affordable option is made completely from natural hardwood. This provides strong, sustained heat and does not contain any additives or fillers.
For the low price, you get charcoal that is sustainably sourced and burns hotter than most alternatives at the same price. This is also really easy to get started with a chimney starter or an electric starter.
This charcoal can also be used multiple times for more efficient operation. If you have any unburnt charcoal from one cooking session, you can reuse that for the next.
Best Overall Charcoal : Fogo Super Premium Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
What We Like…
- Excellent quality
- Easy to light
- Burns for a long time
- Great pure smoky taste
What Makes Us Angry…
- Can take a while to reach optimum temp
- Some lumps can be too big for direct use
- Lower maximum temp makes it a difficult choice for hard searing
If you are looking for a premium charcoal option that can give your food a distinct flavor, our top recommendation is the Fogo Super Premium Natural Hardwood lump charcoal. Sourced from oak hardwood originating in Central America, this is dense charcoal that comes in large pieces. This is the charcoal of choice in many popular restaurants and I believe this is one of the best hardwood lump charcoals.
While it is easy to get this charcoal started and to achieve high heat for searing, the Fogo also burns for a very long time retaining its heat nicely. Since there are no chemicals or additives, you can expect very little sparking and very little ash production.
While most oak charcoals can flavor the protein to a great extent, the Fogo charcoal is an exception. The Salvador oak used in the charcoal and the unique burning technique used by Fogo makes for a distinct mild and sweet flavor that can be perfect for grilled meats. There is quite a lot of flavorful smoke production that engulfs the meat in a smoky flavor.
In terms of quality, this is our pick as the best overall lump charcoal currently available in the market.
Best Lump Charcoal for Grilling : Fogo Super Premium Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
When it comes to grilling over a charcoal flame, the main concern is the smoke of the charcoal tenderizing and flavoring the meat in a distinct way. When you are not using wood and relying on the charcoal entirely for the flavor, the charcoal we recommend is the Fogo Super Premium Natural Hardwood lump charcoal.
Lump charcoals made from oak are well known for producing robust, intense flavors. The Fogo charcoal avoids the overly intense flavoring of the smoke while giving the food a more gentle, mellow, and sweet flavor.
Add to that the premium quality of the charcoal and the long, sustained heat that it can produce and you have a winner on your hands.
It’s Your Call
There is profound variety in the market when it comes to lump charcoals with excellent products at every price point. Depending on the kind of results you want to achieve, it should be easy to take your pick from the options we discussed.
Our overall pick when it comes to the best lump charcoal you can find is the Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal. This is an incredibly versatile charcoal that does not put a dent in your budget and can be suitable for all kinds of cooking. The mild flavor profile is enough to make any meat delicious and the overall quality can be outstanding if you want to cook without worrying too much about sparking or ash.
With such a large selection of quality lump charcoal options on offer, you are sure to have a fabulous time grilling and perfecting your BBQ skills. Try out these products and see what works best for you.